17 Offseason Questions For ’17: No. 15
17 key questions for the Group of Five conferences, and Army, BYU and Notre Dame
No. 15: 17 Group of Five & Independent Questions
American Athletic Conference
Which new coaching changes will matter the most?
Charlie Strong had to try rebuilding Texas, and now Tom Herman is reaping the rewards. There’s little to do with this South Florida team. Major Applewhite doesn’t have to do too much at Houston, either.
Luke Fickell, though, should bring a whole new vibe and energy to Cincinnati, while Randy Edsall is back at UConn – both programs will be far better, fast. To answer the question, expect Fickell to do the most to change things around in his first season.
Geoff Collins, though, is walking into a rebuilding job at Temple. He’s not going to take the Owls to another conference title, but he can’t let them fall off the map.
Which second year coach will be the next Tom Herman/Matt Rhule?
UCF’s Scott Frost might already be there. One more great season, and one more mediocre season by Mike Riley at Nebraska, and that could be the right fit at the right time.
Memphis’ Mike Norvell is destined for a big-time head coaching gig, too. But he needs another great season to prove that he didn’t just do it last year because of what Justin Fuente put together.
Willie Fritz need his offensive style to kick in at Tulane, and Scottie Montgomery needs a big year after last season’s second half freefall. Both of them need another year or two.
Send your offseason questions to @PeteFiutak
Really? Will Lane & Butch make any sort of a difference?
Of course. At the very least, Florida Atlantic and Florida International will be in the national spotlight all season long. With two high-end head coaches with something to prove, they should make their respective teams at least two games better.
Kiffin likely won’t be around FAU long enough to blow through a whole recruiting class, but there’s just enough talent in Boca Raton to push for a bowl appearance. If the Owl D can do anything, it’ll be in the bowl mix.
Davis is walking into a slightly better situation at FIU. If the Golden Panther O can do anything to put points on the board, it’ll be in the bowl mix.
Will the gap between the haves and have-nots close?
It all depends on whether or not Marshall goes back to being Marshall – and not the 3-9 version of last season – if all the Texas teams improve, and if the defenses get better.
It’s a problem in a league with high-powered offenses at WKU, Louisiana Tech, and Middle Tennessee, but it’s hard to make too much noise when nine of the 13 teams gave up more than 400 points.
With all the changes at Western Kentucky and some key losses at Louisiana Tech, though, the stars of last year should take a step back.
Army, BYU, Notre Dame
What can Notre Dame do to turn it all around?
You are what your record is, and Notre Dame was 4-8. Sometimes, the dog of a season just won’t hunt.
The coaching was off, the players didn’t come through in enough key situations, the defense didn’t do enough against the run, and the turnovers were a killer.
The 2015 team did most of the little things right, but it had problems with turnover margin, too, and it won ten games. What it did well, though, was win the close battles, going 4-2 in games decided by eight points or fewer, with the losses to Clemson and Stanford in heartbreaking fashion.
Last year’s team went 1-7 in games decided by eight points or fewer. The Irish were right there in every game but the blowout loss to USC. Be better in tight situations, don’t make the big mistakes, be just a bit more explosive, and 1-7 could be 7-1.
It’s just that simple.
Just how real was Army’s amazing season?
Eight wins? A bowl victory? A win over Navy?! What did you do with the Army football program we all know and love?
The defense finished fourth in the nation after doing an okay job the year before, but to go from 2-10 to 8-5, it was a whole other level of production. Throw in the ball-control ground game to go along with the great D, and everything finally clicked. But can it last?
Yup. Almost all of the top rushers return and seven starters are back on that great defense. The goal is to get to the same Navy-like consistency, with the formula working year-in-and-year-out, and this year’s team should be good enough to keep it all going.
The Black Knights will go bowling again, and if they don’t, consider it a massive disappointment.
Does BYU have any hope to get into the College Football Playoff?
With no conference championship and no direct bowl tie-in, getting to the CFP is the only thing to shoot for.
Of course the Cougars will get a bowl bid if they get to seven wins – it’s a 13-game season – but is that enough? To get in the discussion for the big prize, they have to beat LSU in Houston, then Utah, and then Wisconsin to start 4-0. Do that, and there’s still a date at Mississippi State along with Boise State to deal with.
QB Tanner Mangum should put up big numbers, the linebacking corps is fantastic, and there’s just enough experience and age – it’s BYU – to get back to a bowl game. But is that enough go to 12-1?
Probably not, but the program has set itself up to be the big story of the first month of the season if it can get hot right away.
Is the East any closer to closing the gap on the West?
Not really. Last year, four of the six teams in the West went bowling, while just Ohio and Miami University got an extra game from the East. That trend probably won’t change.
Buffalo will be better, and Akron was close, but unless Bowling Green can rebound from a miserable season, the West is still the best. Toledo should be the start of the conference, Western Michigan will still be good, and Eastern and Central Michigan will be in the hunt for a bowl spot again.
Can Northern Illinois and Bowling Green rise back up?
NIU was the MAC’s power team for a very, very long time, and Bowling Green was fantastic in its 2015 conference championship season. But the Falcons were miserable, and the Huskies once again had quarterback problems in a losing season.
Both teams should be better. Northern Illinois might have the best secondary in the MAC and should have a more consistent offense. Bowling Green is loaded with veterans led by a fantastic receiving corps.
They’re not going to be the dominant forces of a few years ago, but they’ll be just improved enough to make the MAC far more competitive and entertaining.
Send your offseason questions to @PeteFiutak
The big new thing in the Mountain West will be … ?
The West Division. It’s going to be a riot.
With Jeff Tedford taking over Fresno State, Jay Norvell bringing the high-octane Air Raid passing style to Nevada, and Brent Brennan expected crank up the O at San Jose State, the new guys are going to force the league into lots and lots of shootouts.
Add all of that with Nick Rolovich’s Hawaii team that’s about to be far more Hawaii-ey offensively, and with UNLV getting in the talent to crank it up under Tony Sanchez.
And then there’s San Diego State, which will be a doorstop to it all with its defense.
Is it possible for the league to be even stronger?
Boise State might have been bombed by Baylor in the Cactus Bowl, and San Diego State might have had a puzzling loss to South Alabama to screw things up early on, and Wyoming might have lost to Eastern Michigan, but it was a terrific year for the conference.
Three teams – SDSU, Boise State and Air Force – finished with double-digit wins, seven teams went bowling, and it was one of the league’s most competitive seasons in years. With the expected rise of Nevada, Utah State, UNLV and Fresno State, the Mountain West should be even better.
Is it really going to be the two ASUs, Troy, and everyone else?
Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy really do look like the stars of the show again, but no one saw the Trojans coming last year.
Georgia State and Georgia Southern could rise up and get into the mix, and South Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette should be good enough to go bowling. In the hunt for the title, though, all roads should go through Appalachian State, with a few stops against the Trojans and Red Wolves along the way.
Will Coastal Carolina do anything interesting in its first season in the big leagues?
Don’t just assume the new guy will be a speed bump. No, the Chanticleers can’t go bowling, but it’s eligible to win the Sun Belt. That won’t happen, but they’ll come up with a few wins and screw someone up along the way.
They went 10-2 last season and return a dangerous running game led by De’Angelo Henderson. The defense is experienced, and the fire and excitement will be there, but overall, there won’t be enough talent to beat the league’s big boys.